Posts made in March, 2016

Helping Your Reader One Comma at a Time

Helping Your Reader One Comma at a Time

Stu Burns is a fixture at the once-a-month Fine Lines reading/editing meetings.  The following essay he penned is all about the importance of solid, smart punctuation.  With that in mind read (and write) on. * * * By Stu Burns, prose editor for Fine Lines Punctuation, especially using commas, isn’t the exciting, sexy part of writing. It doesn’t usually inspire carpe diem moments with rebellious, creative souls rushing to build barricades or give eulogies to technicians of the nonrestrictive clause. Comma use is more like personal hygiene. People notice, even if they are too polite to mention it. Some people really don’t care, especially if their own hygiene or comma use isn’t that great. As a rule, though, it is probably a good idea to get this sort of thing right. That is why this blog entry came to be. I am going to share some rules out of the MLA Handbook and boldface some examples as I go. Commas divide sentences, making them easier to read. When a writer leaves out a comma that rightfully belongs, the words mush together and become hard to understand. When a writer puts commas in the wrong places, they create divisions where there should be a flow of language. For example, commas go between adjectives that modify the same noun, like when you are describing a big, fat, fearsome, hairy raccoon. You would not use a comma describing an intelligent history teacher, though. In this case, the words “history teacher” make a noun, and putting a comma in there would break up the language when it should flow. Commas also guide a reader by adding structure. If your sentence begins with an introductory phrase, use a comma to set it apart. This is especially important when you begin a sentence with a conjunction (like I just did) or a preposition. Joining two independent clauses with a conjunction also calls for structure, so use a comma when you do this. You do need the conjunction when you do this, though. If you try to use a comma by itself to join two short sentences, you get a run-on sentence. These are bad; structure is good. (And, yes, you can use a semicolon to join independent clauses. Some people do not like that, though.) As anyone with a bottle of sriracha in the cupboard knows, it is important to know when not to do something. This applies to commas. Structure is good, but not when it breaks up words that should go together. The subject of a sentence and the verb that shows what the subject is doing should never be separated by a comma. Take this sentence: “A transport ship full of brave soldiers, charged onto...

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Mondays with Martin: My Child, My Journal

Mondays with Martin: My Child, My Journal

A person’s writing may develop into many things. My attempts at creative writing take the form of a journal, a personal warehouse of ideas and feelings. These bits and pieces expand into larger ideas or are used to support other thoughts that come later. My journal began as a skinny, empty, three-ring notebook and evolved into a robust creation with a personality of its own. My first attempts to originate something from a non-artistic life, bound in the past to mediocrity, surprised me. Without a conscious effort on my part, this unassuming notebook began eating pages scribbled with pathetic sentences, mostly unconnected, didactic, and plain. A few pages held feeble attempts at poetry, stilted, forced rhyming patterns on the most boring topics and secretly hid some scattered, embarrassing attempts at describing the passions of a mid-life crisis or two. Without knowing what I was seeing, the birth of a journal took place before my eyes. The thing increased its appetite. From a page a week, it soon demanded a page every couple of days. As it got bigger, it enjoyed eating more. It wanted to be fed daily, then ten or twelve times a week. What began as a weak, scrawny creature developed muscles and a healthy attitude towards survival. Each time its covers opened to consume more pages, I sensed the bellows of lungs expanding as though it aggressively inhaled new life. With increased bulk between the covers, its lips pushed wider apart. It began to smile at me, as it sat on the shelf across the room. I imagined it standing up and strutting in front of those other notebooks that kicked sand in its face when it was just a little child. Now that it became aware of its own mortality, it insists on the four basic health groups for good writing; literature, spelling, grammar, and composition. Like a parent, I am learning a lot about myself by watching my new child at play, and I think I see the time coming shortly when I will have to find it a name. What would other people think if I did not have a name for my new baby? When it begins to talk, will it develop a psychological problem stemming from a lack of self-confidence without an identity of its own? Nicholas Notebook? Julia Journal? Danny Diary? Bradley Biography? Ashley Album? Pilar Page? Elizabeth Exposition? Imogene Imagination? Karma Klassic? Big Bubba Book? At times, I think my journal is a gold fish in a bowl swimming around in circles without much room to explore or opportunity to develop, while others watch me from a position outside my vision and feel a sort of pity at my...

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Friday From the Journal — A Fine Lines Treasure

Friday From the Journal — A Fine Lines Treasure

This poem by North Platte’s Shelia Boerner is a reminder that camp for young writers (and older writers, too) is around the corner.  Registration is here on the website.  Follow this link for more information. Boerner’s poem is in the current (Spring) Fine Lines issue.  Need a copy?  Then head over to this web...

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Throwback Thursday–My Gift of Five Minutes by Courtney Warren

Throwback Thursday–My Gift of Five Minutes by Courtney Warren

This essay originally ran on the website five years ago.  Forgive the pun, but the topic is timeless.  Enjoy on a Throwback Thursday.   My Gift of Five Minutes by Courtney Warren In five minutes, a man could take a gun and shoot up a mall. In five minutes, a war could begin. In five minutes, a person can die, and in five minutes, thousands of lives can change. A lot can happen in a short amount of time. Things happen in minutes that people spend the rest of their lives wishing they could take back. That’s where my gift comes in. I wouldn’t give a gift wrapped in a box and tied with a pretty bow. No, I would grant the ability to go back in time and change something we wish we had not done. Think about it. Imagine someone close to you died. Would you go back and use your minutes to tell that person you loved them just one last time? I bet thousands would use their five minutes to try and prevent 9/11 from happening. All it would take is one person at the airport to report the situation to the guards. As with most gadgets, this gift comes with an instruction manual. On that first page of the guide is a warning that states, “You only get five minutes. No more. No exceptions. Use them wisely.” The introduction on page one explains that if you have received this ultimate gift, then you are kind at heart. You can only receive this gift if you always try to do the right thing. The introduction also states that you must use your minutes in a fair and honest manner. There are a few rules that come along with this gift. For each minute, there is a rule. First, you cannot use your five minutes to hurt anyone. Second, you cannot sell your minutes, though you can give them away to someone in need. Next, you must have a good reason for using your five minutes, and they cannot be used for a greedy or selfish cause. Fourth, you have to use your five minutes all at once. Finally, you have to give your heart to the cause. There are some fortunate people who do not need their five minutes. “What a lame gift!” They may say. You have to remember, though, that the world is always changing, and people are changing with it. The minutes may come in handy one day. On very rare occasions, people may never need their five minutes. Those are a lucky few! To them, the five minutes may mean nothing, but the same minutes could mean the world to someone...

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